Darfur: UN-backed conference on water resource management opens

27 June 2011 – A United Nations-sponsored conference on the management of water resources in Sudan’s troubled and arid region of Darfur opened today with delegates expected to tackle the problem of water shortages in relation to conflicts exacerbated by competition over natural resources.

The International Conference on Water for Sustainable Peace in Darfur, sponsored by the UN-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID), Sudan’s irrigation and water resources ministry and the UN Country Team (UNCT), brings together more than 300 participants and experts on water use and distribution.

A $1 billion appeal for 65 community water projects in Darfur was launched at the start of the two-day conference, which is taking place in Khartoum.

“The impact of water scarcity… also will imperil our common efforts to achieve peace and stability in Darfur,” said Ibrahim Gambari, the Joint Special Representative and head of UNAMID.

The urgency of the water crisis has convinced international and national experts and leaders that development of the water sector cannot wait for a risk-free security situation or a comprehensive peace agreement.

“Let there be no more talk about waiting until some far off conditions or benchmarks are met,” said Mr. Gambari. “The people of Darfur cannot afford to wait any longer.”

According to Emmanuel Mollel, the head of UNAMID’s water and engineering section, the mission has been incorporating its own resources with those of troop-contributing countries and outsourced drilling capabilities in order to develop a planned 192 water sources.

Earlier this year, UNAMID distributed more than 3,000 rolling water carriers to villages across Darfur where internally displaced persons (IDPs) were returning as part of efforts to promote early recovery and development in the region.

The water carriers reduce the burden on women who must otherwise carry water containers on their heads for long distances to and from water sources.

To conserve water, UNAMID has also been recycling waste water and has procured more than 150 treatment plants. The mission’s 43 wells throughout Darfur supply water to its personnel and local communities around its bases.

Competition over access to land and water between nomadic and settled communities, as well as stress on the land as a result of the concentration of large numbers of IDPs in particular areas, are thought to be some of the underlying cases of conflict in Darfur. Urban populations have also risen as the water table underneath the largely arid region has fallen drastically.

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